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So, “what’s it cost?”

By Client RelationsNo Comments

Scope defining checklist for your graphic designer

Here’s how a typical design project starts off.

Client: Greg, what will it cost to have one of your designers whip up a whitepaper?
Greg: How big/small is it?
Client: Dunno
Greg: Do you have draft copy ready?
Client: No
Greg: Do you have any thoughts on imagery?
Client: Not yet
Greg: What’s your budget?
Client: Dunno
Greg: Hmm, then I’d say between $500 and $50,000
Client: Can you narrow it down?
Greg: Sure, between $500 and $49,999
Client: So, you’re saying you need to know the scope?
Greg: 🙂

I’m kidding of course, most of our clients are awesome at defining scope, but without knowing most of the details, you’re asking for a polar bear in a snow storm.

So, before you reach out to your graphic designer and ask them “what’s it cost?” it’s best to get your @#$% together. And this should help.

1. Size or Length

Whether it’s a whitepaper, presentation, pitch deck or even a website, determining the size is often done by figuring out page count. Doesn’t have to be exact, but letting your designer know you’re thinking it should be “around 15 pages” is a great start.

2. Shape

For the most part, marketing content is still 8.5”x11” – why, I don’t know, but it doesn’t have to be. Page size, shape and orientation can impact the amount of work for design, so let your designer know what you envision it to be. They will also have great ideas like designing the content as wide-format for desktop or tall and skinny for mobile.

3. Copy

Word-count can and will drive up the cost. A while back we got a 20,000-word copy deck for a sales brochure. Comfortably spread out, that would have been about 50 pages to design – yikes! A beast to design and far too long for the reader.

4. Photos

In 90% of the content we design, we source the stock photos, but would absolutely prefer real images specific to the brand. But either way, your designer needs to know if you’ll be providing the pics or not. Sourcing authentic-looking images that fit with the over-all design is incredibly important, but time consuming.

5. Charts, Graphs & Custom Graphics

In many cases, it’s a good idea to discuss the need for additional images that the designer will have to create. Time and money to do that, but often necessary. Client-supplied graphics are almost always unusable as they can be low-res, poor quality or just not a good fit. But discuss your needs.

6. Sample Content

It’s definitely a great idea to provide your designer with similar pieces you like. It can help us understand what you have in mind. And consider the “level” of design too. Sure, we all want a Mercedes, but if your brand is modest, maybe a Kia is more suitable – and provide samples more in line with that. You are not Apple or Nike, trust me.

7. About Your Brand

Do you have a brand guide and can we see it? Like most designers, we want to ensure consistency in everything we create and following a brand guide is in our DNA. And, getting a look at other marketing content you may have done over the past few months. Good or bad, that’s your brand and we either maintain that, or make it better. Please choose the latter.

8. Budget

Knowing what you’ve got in the kitty will tell your designer a ton. It’s not about milking you for every dollar, it’s about adjusting the scope to fit the budget. Maybe that 40 slide presentation can be done in 20 (it probably should be anyway), but designers can work with you to create something awesome no matter the size of your budget.

9. Deadline

How fast you need content designed shouldn’t be a factor into the cost of design. While some designers charge a rush-fee, we just don’t believe in that. But knowing the deadline is urgent may paint a picture of how the project will go. My grandad said that we have to slow down to speed up, but that’s for another post.

10. Price Range / Averages

We’re often asked to “ball-park” the design quote, or provide a price range that’s average to that kind of piece. Well, we’ve done this, but there are too many factors can impact scope and it’s just not a great way to quote a project. For example, we ballparked the last whitepaper we did but didn’t factor in the 50 charts we had to create. That’s on me, I forgot to ask.

And honestly, learning to have a two-way conversation about the scope of work is the best thing you could take away from this article.

So, pick up the phone and let’s talk deets before da quote.

Sound fair?

Small of Duty

By Branding & DesignNo Comments

Your small business does not need a logo. And that’s a strange thing to say coming from a branding guy – yeah me, a graphic designer that’s designed a crap-ton of logos in my lifetime. But lemme say it again…

Your small business does not need a logo!

Honestly, unless you’re well-funded by an angel investor – and last time I checked, most start-ups are not – then you’re better off investing your time and cashola on getting a decent website up and launching on social. Once you’re established and raking in the dough, that’ll be the time to level-up.

Come back to us then for a full brand development. And bring donuts this time, sheesh.

Ok, but lemme clarify what I mean by a “logo.”

Full Graphic Logo

Designing a well-researched and well-crafted logo can run into the thousands. It takes designers time and energy to develop words and symbols into something meaningful and memorable. We don’t just draw purty logos. And it almost always includes a custom illustrated image or graphic icon that represents the business is some way. This aint no clip-art logo.

A full logo often includes the entire brand too. Considerations for typography, colours, imagery, voice and the kitchen sink. The brand’s personality is developed and presented as a nice neat package.

So, yeah, it’s more than just a logo. A logo you just don’t need. Yet.


Instead, we often suggest that small business focus on getting a simple wordmark logo designed – at a fraction of the cost. Apparently, I like talking myself out of a bigger sale.

Wordmarks are a unique text-only typographic treatment of your company name. A focus-on-fonts as we like to say. And are done lightning fast to keep the costs low. We then package your wordmark with a great colour palette and a few great images to create what we call, a “mini-brand.” This is all you need to launch your business when it comes to web and social. A mini-brand for a mini-budget.

Oh, and those $5 logos…

Yep, you can buy a logo for five bucks. In some cases it works out alright, but invariably those who choose this route come back to us later, realizing it aint working. But that also has something to do with those who buy a $5 logo probably don’t invest in a decent site or a web-dev company to build a professional site. But that’s a whole other discussion.

But really, what’s so bad about a $5 logo?

Well, buying a low-cost, low-quality logo can hurt your brand. Your potential clients can easily spot amateur design and will judge your business as less-than-professional. Ouch. Take a look at Jason Li’s article, he nails it…
“If your logo looks amateurish, so does your business.”

So, if you’re about to launch a small business, connect with us and let’s chat about what you need. And what you don’t. We’d be happy to walk you thru it. If you’re an enterprise-level biz, then we be havin’ a different conversation.

Abandon All Tips

By TipsNo Comments

So, how many blogs about graphic design have you read? Did you find any particularly useful? We figured a better way to learn, is to abandon those complex design tips and focus on the simple things. You may be a hot mess when it comes to DIY graphic design, so just we wanna save your soul.

But if this is your first time here, check out our last post Nacho Average Tips. If you’re able to implement any of our advice and elevate your design, then just know my Team loves Krispy Kreme. Original glazed if you please.

So, shall we jump right in?

Go Big or Go Gnome.

Graphic designers often write about type hierarchy like you already know what the hell it is. Simply put, it means the message that’s the most important, should be set in the biggest font size. Prob your headline. And then using various-sized type, you can direct their eyeballs to where you want them to go next.

You can use color, spacing, weight, and other factors to create this hierarchy, but working with type size is better. The goal is to guide your reader through the entire piece of content and hopefully (if not insurance-webinar-dull), tap on the call-to-action. The ultimate goal of graphic design.

Oh, and check out this hierarchy magic right here…

White of the Living Dead.

Your audience can easily spot amateur graphic design vs professional design – and a dead giveaway of an amateur post is a logo in a white box. Honestly, it’s gawd awful and likely caused by the .jpg file you imported into the layout.

A .jpg logo comes with a white background, but a .png is transparent and can be placed on virtually any coloured background. Cool, huh?

When possible though, it’s better to use a vector file (.svg .eps .ai) but ask your graphic designer or marketer for the right file type. Any self-respecting designer will provide all of the necessary logo files to your company, arranged neatly by what each is used for.

Don’t be Flank Sinatra.

You know when people place emojis, flags or icons on both sides of a headline? We call that “book-ends” or “flank the headline.” Your headline doesn’t need decoration, so this is a bit on the amateurish side too.

Taking that further, your reader needs to find the starting point to engage with your post, but if you place a cute emoji to the left of that, it makes it difficult to read. Trivial maybe, but we’re talking about simple fixes to your design, and this is just one of those things that makes content harder to read.

So, knot bad, eh?

Well, nautical puns aside, this post was easy – and the tips are simple enough to implement right now. And while they seem awfully simple, mastering graphic design is often about getting the small things right. Come back again. I’ll post more tips if I’m not distrac ­– hey, who brought donuts?

Fa-boo-lous Ghosting Stories

By Client RelationsNo Comments

I wish I knew why. New clients often turn to us when their graphic designer has ghosted them – and I wish I knew why.

“Our designer has disappeared off the face of the earth.”
“I’ve emailed him three times, but he’s not responding.”
“Apparently, the designer has flown the coop.”

These are the ones we know about, and naturally we were able to help – and acquired new clients in the process. But as a graphic designer myself, it irks me that my fellow designers treat clients this way.

The fading-phenom has become all too real as gig sites like and 99designers surge in popularity. And though these are the source of most ghosting stories, I said I wouldn’t bash them when I wrote this. So I’ll just SMH and walk away.

So, d’ya have a ghost story for us?

C’mon, spill the tea. We want to hear your “ghosted by my designer” story. Leave us a comment, message me or send me an email. We’d really like to know why this keeps happening to Marketers like you and what you’ve done about it.

Oh, in my previous post, Ghosted by my Graphic Designer, I suggested that Marketers could vet the designer like a job interview, but I realize it’s too late for that now. So, if your designer is constantly blowing deadlines or you’re having to repeatedly ask (beg) them for updates, that’s a red flag, and your designer may soon become a vanishing act.

Nacho Average Tips

By TipsNo Comments

So, you’ve come here looking for graphic design tips, huh?

Well, we aint gonna be talking about colour theory, white space or the anatomy of typography. How about some actual, usable design tips that you can implement right now?

And let’s start with the stuff DIY-designers and design newbies get wrong (but are easily fixable). It’s ok, we’re not judging, we just wanna help YOU make better content.

Margins (or lack thereof).

For the love of margins, back off from the edge, will ya? When you place text and images too close to the page edge, ­it’s claustrophobic. Like when you’re jammed in a tiny elevator facing your work-crush and you had garlic pesto for lunch. It’s embarrassing. But in reality, it makes the reader work too hard to know where to begin.

Make your margins at least 50 pixels. Hmm, make that 60.

Gotta make this stand out. And this. And that too.

Noooooo! You do not. Listen, your readers are scrolling so fast, that it’s better to keep your layout simple. Focus on ONE message and make THAT stand out to catch their eye. Hook ‘em and if it’s important enough, they’ll stop ­– wait a minute, fill my cup…

– damn, sorry for the Uptown Funk distraction.

But yeah, avoid underlining, highlighting and go easy on the bolding too. K?

Superfluous is an excessively long word.

When people create ads and posts on social, they often add words that are unnecessary. Superfluous words. Like when I’m explaining to my wife that I’m golfing again on Sunday, I tend over communicate and use more words hoping it will justify my request. But we know less is more and it gets to the point faster… Golf Sunday? No? Ok, sure then, I’d love to watch the Hallmark Channel with you.

By removing extra words, your reader will absorb your message faster and will retain it longer.

So, are those enough tips for now? Check back often as I’ll try to add more. I probably won’t though as I’m often distrac ­

– hey, who brought donuts?

But I will def post more useful content for you. Design content. Cause I’m a (we’re) designers.

Ghosted by my Graphic Designer

By Branding & DesignNo Comments

Has your designer truly disappeared, or have they dropped you like third period French?

We wanted to know what’s happening when a freelancer fades the client, so we asked some marketers we know.

In two cases, the designer got a full time job and left them in a lurch. The third one took on more work than she could handle and just wasn’t responding. Frus-tra-ting.

We also heard about designers that went back to school, ones that could only talk after 5pm, and one that would only talk by email. No phone calls please! And the most curious one? Designers that seem to just fall off the face of the earth. Ghosted!

Now don’t get me wrong, my creative agency loves freelance designers and we have a healthy respect for them – but just as there are great designers out there, this post is about making sure you hire the right one at the onset.

So, if you’re about to hire a designer, we suggest vetting them as if they were applying for a job in your business…

  1. Have they been freelancing long? Check their work history. Did they bounce from job to job? That may be a sign of instability or boredom. Look for one that has dug in.
  2. Have they just been laid off or packaged out? Will they commit for the long term or is this a temporary fix until they land a new job?
  3. Check their website and look for clients that match your business size. Are you too big for them?
  4. Call those clients and ask them about their experience. Most will tell you they love their designer, but some will be candid and tell you the truth.
  5. And finally, have a look at their social media channels. Are you dealing with a professional, or someone that does “design” as a side hustle?

There are many awesome graphic designers out there – finding and keeping a good one is the goal. But if you have enough work to rely on someone every week, then consider hiring a design company or a creative agency. Having access to several designers, each with different talent can work to your advantage. Like this client of ours…

“Greg, one of the things I love about your in-house designers, is that I never have to worry about getting our marketing material done on time.”

Ok, I have to go. A new client is asking us to take over from where her freelancer left off. No one can find her working files, so we’ll have to rebuild everything. But that’s ok, we’ve got this.

Get your designer to listen

By Branding & DesignNo Comments

Ever have a project come back from your graphic designer and find it’s no where near what you had in mind? I’m guessing the answer is a resounding yes!

Well, you’re not alone and we’ve heard all about this from many new clients over the years. The number one issue these marketers tell us – in working with their previous designer or agency – is a lack of listening skills. And when pressed about what they did to fix the issue, the answers and excuses they heard varied.

Designers are very opinionated and are quick to defend themselves …

  • “I thought this would be better and way cool”
  • “We didn’t have enough time”
  • “There was no direction”
  • “You didn’t supply a creative brief”
  • “The creative brief was confusing”
  • “I can’t read your mind”
  • “But we’re the experts”

As a marketer, those probably sound familiar, and I’m betting it’s caused you plenty of distress waiting for a redesign. So, do you simply replace your designer? Well, not yet as I’m sure they usually do a decent job, but here are some things your designer should be asking you. At the onset …

  • Are they asking the purpose of the project?
  • Do they ask for a sample of a previous piece?
  • Are deadlines or expectations addressed?
  • Have they asked for a creative brief?
  • Do they ask for all the assets up front, requesting logos, photos, branding guidelines?
  • Are they asking questions to gain understanding?
  • Do they paraphrase what you just told them?

A good designer or design agency should be listening, and should deliver what you’ve asked for. An even better creative partner should be providing you options, perhaps one layout matching your brief, and another that they’d like you to consider.

However, let’s be reasonable. A designer will occasionally miss the mark, but if they want to grow the relationship, they should be listening more.

As for me, I’ve been practicing ‘active listening’ with my wife for some time now, and she says I’m a much better husband for it. Now if only I’d put my clothes in the damn hamper already!


By Branding & DesignNo Comments

My wife and I have been married for a long time and frequently, I get that exasperated look from her. When I politely ask what’s wrong, she rolls her eyes and tells me that I didn’t take out the garbage (or something like that). Apparently, I should have read her mind. And now I duck for cover.

Being a mind reader.

So what does my marital discord have to do with a creative agency? Well, both require clear communication – and one of the biggest complaints we hear from new clients, about their former graphic designer, is that they often missed their changes or didn’t change the layout exactly as requested. But as we know, marketers and designers cannot read each other’s minds. Although over time, a great designer seems able to.

You make the call.

As with anything a little complex, talking about it on the phone is the best way to get your point across. Sure it takes time, but at the end of the conversation, both people are on the same page. The good ol’ fashioned phone is still the best way to communicate with a designer, but if he or she is difficult to reach, then try other ways to communicate what you want done. Like you, good designers can busy too, so keep trying.

A+ for penmanship.

If you’re writing out your changes, remember there’s a reason our teachers taught us to write neatly. Some designers are great at deciphering chicken scratch, but many fail miserably. A good design agency will ask for typed out changes, but a great one will ask you to use the easy-to-use ‘sticky note’ tool right in the PDF itself.

All at once.

And all those changes are best supplied all at once, in a single email, to your designer. It can help eliminate the excuse that they lost your emails in some kind of inbox abyss.

Be patient.

Your designer wants to see your project done right. Sharing and collaborating with you along the way is the best way to achieve it. And while some designers put a limit on the number of changes, at our creative agency, we believe it takes what it takes, and handcuffing you to a pre-set amount of changes is counter-productive. The entire process, like a good marriage, requires patience and good communication.

Now, excuse me. Apparently I need to take out the garbage. Again.

Squeeze your design budget

By TipsNo Comments

1. Stop paying a premium for rush!

In the 21 years I’ve managed Synergy Design, we’ve never once charged a client a rush fee, I just don’t believe in it. A solid agency should have the bandwidth to handle urgent projects and have some buffer built into their studio.

On the other hand, if you tell your designer it’s urgent every time, they’ll quickly learn that it’s not. If you want to be a great client, be honest about your deadlines. Build trust with your agency by giving them time when you have it and you’ll be in great shape to call in a favour when you’re in deep sh@*# because the content was due last week.

2. Multiple layouts = Mucho dinero

Designers generally pour their heart and soul into the first layout, so requesting additional designs (of diminishing quality) may not get you far.

And since you’re likely paying for each one, maybe you should ask to see the first layout first – you may not need a second or even a third. However, if you work with an agency with several designers, then requesting multiple layouts typically means you’ll get multiple designers. Well worth the investment.

3. Whoa, hang on, you’re not ready for design

A huge part of the design process is managing incoming assets. If you drip feed your agency with copy today, logos tomorrow, and the photos next week, it can add significant project management time.

Oh, and try to provide copy that’s been edited. Why? Well, designers are happy to make minor edits on the fly, but often they’re making major edits typically because they’re working with draft copy. So, save your dinero by editing and proof-reading the copy before sending it for design.

4. Uh oh, did you go past 3 revisions?

The industry standard of capping edits to just 3 rounds is older than my grandpa’s Cadillac. I can’t recall when a project was wrapped up in 5 rounds, let alone 3. Designers know this and will often use “extra revisions” as a chance to pad the bill.

However, a good agency will have plenty of work on hand and won’t be desperate to squeeze every dollar out of you. They recognize that every client is different, so handcuffing them to a pre-determined amount of changes impedes the relationship. Try negotiating at least 5 rounds of revisions with your designer, you’re going to need them. Uh, better make it 6, and read more about edits and changes here.

5. Scope creep

On the other hand, unforeseen major changes in a project or scope beyond what was quoted, will happen.

This often occurs gradually, and most designers will let it go, but when it gets out of hand both parties should be honest and work out a compromise on additional fees. There’s that trust thing again. I’m starting to see a pattern here.

6. Flat fee

And finally, ask your designer or creative agency about flat fee, per project pricing instead of hourly or retainer. It can often be difficult for inexperienced designers to know how long a project will take, and their invoice could be a big surprise. Like the state of Texas big. Of course, a seasoned agency will have designed a project like yours before, so they’ll have the confidence to quote you a flat fee, no surprises, and no hidden fees. Read more about that here because hey, I could use the backlink.

Ok, is that enough to get you started?

I have other thoughts on how to squeeze more from that creative budget of yours. Something about using templates, repurposing content, and even becoming exclusive with a creative partner you can trust. Honestly, that last part is the best way to squeeze your budget. But we’ll address that another time, I’ve got to go and squeeze my wife now… Her budget I mean, her budget.

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